Metaphors and similes are an imaginative galaxy which greater minds than mine have explored. That doesn’t stop me gathering dazzling and original examples to enliven human exchange, expanding the choice of vigorous, beautiful ways to sharpen how we think, read, write and speak.

Wrung from the soul

Wrung from the soul

Maggie Tulliver is a deep-feeling woman of painful sincerity, and here words are wrung from her, with a wrenching simile. 'These words were rung forth from Maggie's deepest soul, with an effort like the convulsed clutch of a drowning man.'    Source: George...

An unmapped river

An unmapped river

A marvelous image for human destinies, usually well hidden no matter the efforts we make to discern them. Since this engaging classic revolves around a mill - and a related family - on the River Floss, the watery metaphor has particular resonance, and all the more so...

The garment of silence

The garment of silence

The hum of insects, bees buzzing about the flowers, can be one of the most soothing of sounds and George Eliot has a beautiful way to describe this sweet song.'... and listen to the hum of insects, like tiniest bells on the garment of Silence.' Source: George Eliot,...

My head’s alive

My head’s alive

Like an old cheese ... a surprising and original way to describe a lively mind, writhing with ideas and plans. Hope you have moments like this, when they flow so thick and fast that 'one knocks another over'. 'I think my head's all alive inside like an old cheese, for...

As open as …

As open as …

A limpid simile for being open and transparent. If only more people were like Maggie Tulliver, although it can be said that her openness is not without difficulty for her.'... she was as open and transparent as a rock-pool.' Source: George Eliot, The Mill...

As gentle and powerful as …

As gentle and powerful as …

An unusual pairing of adjectives and a surprising simile to embrace both. 'No thundering from a pulpit, no condemnation from bad churches, no peer pressure, just a book of scripture quietly waiting to say hello, as gentle and powerful as a little girl's...

Someday the history of metaphor will be written and we shall at last grasp all the truths and misconceptions in which this intensely speculative subject abounds.  

Source: Jorge Luis Borges, On Writing, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2010, p. 45

Like sticks of barley sugar

It's years since I saw a stick of barley sugar, and this perhaps dates Donald Hall's otherwise quite timeless writing. But I like the resemblance of a tower to a...

As still as …

So even the regular church-going Victorians only did their duty on Sundays. A nice way to convey stillness - an empty church on a week-day.

'It was as still as...

Bristled serpents of ivy

A perfect description of those thick cords of ivy rope that wrap themselves around trees, eventually suffocating them.

'The ivy twisting round the oaks like bristled serpents.'  22nd...

Beloved Sir Benjamin

The old, fat, warm-hearted cousin of the young heroine.  Both Merryweathers, he of the sun type, she of the moon. She's an orphan and he takes her under his wing,...

As huge as …

Mervyn Peake is a fount of original similes and metaphors.  Given the granite-gothic ambiance of Gormenghast, it makes sense that 'huge' should evoke 'doom'. 

'... at their centre, between the...

Contorted as …

Never thought of caterpillars as contorted, but I like the simile.  Hope you do too, and the image I used. As contorted a caterpillar as I could find and what...

Of sleepy lighthouses

Dwarfed by daylight, the lighthouse is a nocturnal creature like an owl, and so might similarly nod off to sleep when it has nothing to do.

'... its lighthouse now...

Like ladies’ fat dogs

Here is the marvelous farmer's wife Mrs Poyser, always straight to the point and with an opinion, richly expressed, about everyone and everything.  I loved this dismissal of upper class...

Like quicksand beneath a monument

Orlando's love for Sasha is always on such shaky ground as his passion and jealousy and her apparent infidelity and coolness wreak havoc with his emotions.

'The doubt underlying the...

As inert as …

Two fine similes to describe inertness, of which I lean to the first as being more euphonic and original.

'… inert as an aardvark or a giant ant-eater…'

Source: Patrick...

Glittering as though sugared

Ah yes, that's how it looks when you have those dancing sparkles on the sea's surface.  I like the extension to a 'frost of beneficence', like the frosting on a...

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